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L.A. legend explores secrets, sex, and love with “Bloodbound”

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Mike Bash and Gordon Thomson in “Bloodbound.” (Courtesy Highways Performance Space, photo credit: Sonja Brenna)

Michael Kearns – whose newest play, “Bloodbound,” opens January 19th at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica – has been a respected luminary of the Los Angeles theatrical scene, as well as a legendary activist-artist, for years.

After making his debut here as a performer in Tom Eyen’s notorious “The Dirtiest Show in Town,” back in 1971, he has continued to contribute edgy and groundbreaking theatre from onstage and off – producing, directing, and writing plays which have broken taboos, pushed boundaries, and opened conversations about queer life, LGBTQ issues, and HIV/AIDS awareness.  He’s written numerous books about the theatre, and contributed to many publications (including a recent article about the Harvey Weinstein scandal for the Los Angeles Blade).

He’s also never been one for keeping his private life a secret.

He first gained notoriety as a young actor in the 1970s – when, despite the widespread homophobia that plagued the film and television industry at the time, he came out as “Hollywood’s first openly gay actor” and still managed to maintain a healthy career in the mainstream while keeping one foot planted in the world of “alternative” art and theatre.  Then, in 1991, he made television history by revealing his HIV-positive status on “Entertainment Tonight,” subsequently portraying a similarly-affected character in a recurring role on “Life Goes On,” as well as making appearances in other shows that tackled the subject of HIV/AIDS.  A few years later, he went on to very publicly become the first HIV-positive, single, gay man to adopt a child (his daughter, he says, is “the most important force” in his life).

It should be no surprise, then, that for his latest theatrical endeavor, Kearns has turned to his own life for material.

“Bloodbound” is the story of two brothers – one a playwright, the other in prison for murder – who, as they enter their declining years, are struggling to make sense of the shared experiences that have led them each down their own divergent paths.  Raised by a mother who – as Kearns puts it – “has no boundaries, none,” their relationship to each other and to the world around them is shaped by a deep and closely held secret.  Now, three decades later, the playwright wants it to come out; his brother is not so sure.

This provocative premise begs the question of just how autobiographical a play Kearns has written.  He’s cagey about the answer.

“I’m not making any secret out of the fact that I have a brother in prison,” he says.  “But whether the play is autobiographical or not, EVERY play I write is autobiographical, every single word I write is autobiographical.”

Pressed for details about the plot, he is even cagier.  He says a few cryptic things about the state of the prison system in 21st-century America, and alludes to subject matter that evokes thoughts of the #MeToo movement, but not much else is forthcoming.

“I’m not being deliberately coy about revealing what it’s about.  But it’s so personal and so painful in so many respects, maybe that’s what’s coming across.”

That may be the case, but the sly twinkle of humor in his voice is an unmistakable sign that, like any good magician, he is determined not to reveal too much about what’s up his sleeve.  Nevertheless, he goes on.

“These two brothers have a very big secret, and it drives the play, and it has driven their love for each other.  And really, the playwright is just as imprisoned as his brother; they’re both imprisoned by the fact that they don’t talk about this incident that has happened.  So what they are really working towards, what they are really fighting for, is the freedom of love.

It’s funny.  You could say this play traverses the themes that I have been writing about for years.  In other words, it’s very sexually charged – but isn’t my stuff really about the freedom to love?  Does it really have anything to do with sex at the end of the day?  I write about sex, but am I not really writing about love?  I thought that was a really interesting thing to come up with at this point in my life.”

When discussing the stylistic form of the piece, he is much more direct.

“The plays that I consider my most solid, exciting pieces are in no way linear, ‘beginning-middle-end’ scripts, and they’re not intended to be.  I didn’t invent this concept, of course.  I think the word these days is ‘mosaic,’ or ‘impressionistic.’ They’re not like the plays we grew up on. This one has a sense of going back and forth through time.  It’s very theatrical, in that my character…”  He chuckles at this slip.  “OOPS, I mean the playwright character… serves as a sort of narrator, and throughout the play he has to conjure their past, to re-enact many of the incidents that have led the two brothers to this moment in time. Two actors play each brother, the younger and older versions, and they can ALL talk to each other.”

So why did Kearns feel the need to write this particular play, at this particular time?

“I think my inspiration for writing any play is that I have some primal, visceral need to figure out who I am.  Yes, I have a big investment in the community, and an investment in trying to make issues around sexuality less frightening for people – but I have to write, whether I’m inspired or not.  Also, I believe that we’re losing the love of language.  My writing is conversational, but then it flies into complicated, romantic, poetic, passionate language.  I think it’s so critical, because where else are we going to get this language, besides in the theatre?  That’s where I learned it, and I think part of what I’m doing is to say not to be afraid of going crazy with language, just a little bit.

Maybe most the most important thing I would like people to get from ‘Bloodbound’ has to do with looking at things that are unconventional or uncomfortable and just giving them a chance.  My characters are not written to be instantly loveable, or instantly relatable – it takes work to love them.  It’s a challenge to the audience.  It’s no different than me, Michael, having to learn to listen to someone who voted for Trump – it’s just painful to me, I don’t want to talk to them.  But at some point, we must learn to listen to other people, and that’s part of what this play is about.  I want the audience to increase their level of empathy.”

All this may seem fairly grim – but anyone familiar with Kearns quirky, outrageous work knows that it is sure to be served up with a healthy dose of humor.

“It certainly doesn’t sound funny, but it is.  It’s deeply funny.”

“Bloodbound” is directed by Mark Bringelson, and stars Golden Globe nominee (for “Dynasty”) Gordon Thomson, Greg Ainsworth, Mike Bash, and Hunter Lee Hughes.

Michael Kearns

“BLOODBOUND” by Michael Kearns

Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th Street, Santa Monica, CA (at the 18th Street Arts Center).

Tickets: ($25 general and $20 members/students/seniors) are available at www.highwaysperformance.org

Performance schedule:

Fridays: January 19 and 26 at 8:30pm

Saturdays: January 20 and 27 at 8:30pm

Sundays: January 28, February 4, 11, 18, 25, and March 4 at 3:30pm

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Movies

Celebrate Judy Garland’s centennial by watching her movies

The dazzling force of nature made 34 films

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‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ is one of Judy Garland’s iconic film roles.

When the world ends, aficionados will still be watching their favorite Judy Garland movies.

Queer icon Garland was born 100 years ago this year (on June 10, 1922).

Everyone knows how tragic much of Garland’s life was. MGM feeding her uppers and downers when she was a child. Bad luck with husbands. Getting fired from movies because of her addiction issues. Her death at age 47.

You can’t deny that Garland’s life was often a mess. Yet, it’s too easy to encase Garland into a box of victimhood.

Contrary to the misperception of her as a sad figure, Garland wasn’t a morbid person. She was a fabulous comedian and clown, John Fricke, author of “The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic,” told the Blade in 2019. Lucille Ball said Garland was the funniest woman in Hollywood, Fricke said. “‘She made me look like a mortician,’ Lucy said,” he added.

In the midst of the sentimentality and morbidity shrouding her legacy, you can readily forget Garland’s prodigious talent and productivity.

Garland was a consummate, multi-faceted, out-of-this-world talented performer. She (deservedly) received more awards than most performers would even dream of: two Grammy Awards for her album “Judy at Carnegie Hall,” a special Tony for her long-running concert at the Palace Theatre and a special Academy Juvenile Award. Garland was nominated for an Emmy for her TV series “The Judy Garland Show” and for Best Supporting Oscar for her performance in “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Garland, a dazzling, force of nature on screen, made 34 films. There’s no better way to celebrate Garland’s centennial than to watch her movies.

Garland was renowned for connecting so intimately with audiences when she sang. She’s remembered for her legendary musicals — from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Meet Me in St. Louis” to “A Star is Born.”

But if you watch, or re-watch, her movies, you’ll see that Garland wasn’t just a singer who sang songs, and sometimes danced, in production numbers in movie musicals.

Garland was a talented actor. She wasn’t appearing on screen as herself – Judy Garland singing to her fans.

Whether she’s tearing at your heartstrings as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” performing brilliant physical comedy with Gene Kelly in the “The Pirate,” breaking your heart with “The Man that Got Away” in “A Star is Born” or unrecognizable as Irene Hoffmann in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Garland is acting. Her performance etches these characters onto your DNA.

Picking Garland’s best movies is like deciding which five of your 20 puppies should go on an outing. But, if you’re cast away on a desert island, take these Garland movies with you:

“Meet Me in St. Louis”: This luminous 1944 musical, directed by Vincente Minnelli, has it all: Garland in top form, the Trolley song, Margaret O’Brien, along with a stellar cast, and the best Christmas song ever.

“The Clock”: This 1945 movie, also directed by Minnelli, showcases Garland as a gifted dramatic actress. Shot in stunning black-and-white near the end of World-War II, the movie is the story, set in New York City, of a young woman (Garland) and a soldier on leave (Robert Walker) who fall in love.

“Easter Parade”: Sure, this 1948 picture, directed by Charles Walters, is thought of as a light musical by some. But, who cares? It’s in Technicolor, and Judy’s in peak form – dancing with Fred Astaire.

“A Star is Born”: If you don’t know the story of this 1954 film, directed by George Cukor, starring Garland and James Mason, you’re not a member of queer nation. There have been other versions of “A Star is Born,” some quite good, but this is still the best. Garland should have gotten an Oscar for this one.

“Judgment at Nuremberg”: This 1961 film, directed by Stanley Kramer, will never be a date night movie. It’s long (3 hours, 6 minutes), grim (about Nazi crimes) and Garland is only in it for about seven minutes. But the story is gripping and Garland’s performance is mesmerizing. When you watch her as Irene, you won’t be thinking that’s Judy Garland.

Happy centennial, Judy! 

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Books

New ACT UP book is part history, part memoir

‘Boy with the Bullhorn’ chronicles hard work, grief, anger

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(Book cover image courtesy of Fordham University Press)

‘Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York’ 
By Ron Goldberg
c.2022/ Fordham University Press
$36.95/512 pages

The sign above your head shows what’s going on inside.

Last night, you made the sign with a slogan, firm words, a poke to authority – and now you carry it high, yelling, marching, demanding that someone pay attention. Now. Urgently. As in the new book, “Boy with the Bullhorn” by Ron Goldberg, change is a-coming.

He’d never done anything like it before.

But how could he not get involved? Ron Goldberg had read something about ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and he heard they were holding a rally near his workplace. It was 1987, he’d never participated in anything like that before, but whispers were everywhere. He and his friends were “living under a pervasive cloud of dread.”

He “was twenty-eight years old… scared, angry, and more than a little freaked out” about AIDS, he says.

Couldn’t he at least go down and hold a sign?

That first rally led Goldberg to attend a meeting, which, like most, as he came to realize, were raucous and loud and “electric.” Because he was “living fully ‘out and proud’,” and because he realized that this was an issue “worth fighting for,” he became even more involved with ACT UP by attending larger rallies and helping with organizing and getting his fellow activists fired up. He observed as women became involved in ACT UP, too. Monday night meetings became, for Goldberg, “the most exciting place in town.”

There, he learned how politics mixed with activism, and why ACT UP tangled with the Reagan administration’s leaders. He puffed with more than just a little ownership, as other branches of ACT UP began spreading around the country. He learned from ACT UP’s founding members and he “discovered hidden talents” of his own by helping.

On his years in ACT UP, Goldberg says, “There was hard work, grief, and anger, surely, but there was also great joy.” He was “a witness. And so, I began to write.”

Let’s be honest: “Boy with the Bullhorn” is basically a history book, with a little memoir inside. Accent on the former, not so much on the latter.

Author Ron Goldberg says in his preface that Larry Kramer, who was one of ACT UP’s earliest leaders encouraged him to pull together a timeline for the organization and this book is the result of the task. It’s very detailed, in sequential order and, as one reads on, it’s quite repetitive, differing basically in location. It’s not exactly a curl-up-by-the-fire read.

Readers, however – and especially older ones who remember the AIDS crisis – won’t be able to stop scanning for Goldberg’s memories and tales of being a young man at a time when life was cautiously care-free. The memories – which also act as somewhat of a gut-wrenching collection of death-notices – are sweet, but also bittersweet.

This book is nowhere near a vacation kinda book but if you have patience, it’s worth looking twice. Take your time and you’ll get a lot from “Boy with the Bullhorn.” Rush, and it might just go over your head.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Sports

Trailblazing Scots pro soccer athlete comes Out and inspires others

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, saying “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders”

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Screenshot/YouTube

EDINBURGH – Two weeks after making headlines as the first-ever senior Scottish pro soccer player to come out as gay, Zander Murray is revealing the impact his courageous decision has had on at least one closeted player. Murray tweeted a message he received that shows the difference an athlete coming out can make. 

“I just wanted to tell you that you’ve been a massive inspiration for me to come out to teammates and family,” the anonymous player told Murray, according to the tweet. 

“As a young footballer I find it difficult to be myself as it is but being gay and keeping it secret was so challenging. It felt amazing when I told my teammates, they were super supportive.” 

Murray shared the message with a heart emoji and the words: “Makes it all worthwhile young man.”

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, the Gala Fairydean Rovers, on September 16, explaining “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders.”

Screenshot/YouTube

As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Jake Daniels of Blackpool came out as gay in May, the first U.K. male pro soccer player to come out in more than 30 years. Justin Fashanu was the first in Britain men’s soccer to come out back in 1990. Homophobic and racist media reports drove Fashanu to suicide eight years later. 

Reaction to Murray’s coming out last month has been “incredible,” he’s told reporters. One of those reaching out to congratulate him was Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley. The U.K. diver sent him a DM, Murray told a British interviewer. 

“He messaged me while I was on my way back from football training in a car with four boys. I had tears in my eyes seeing his direct message, and I messaged him back.

“I said, ‘Look I am in a car on the way back from football with four boys and I’ve got tears in my eyes and I don’t even care.’”

Prior to coming out, Murray had been “living in fear 24/7,” he told Sky Sports. “I can’t explain it. You’re hiding your phone in case you get messages from friends, constantly double-checking if you have a team night out, you’re cautious with what you’re saying.

“It’s very hard, especially for myself, I’m a character in that dressing room. I’m not quiet in that dressing room, I like to have the banter and to get stuck in, so very challenging.”

But Murray said he couldn’t have decided to come out “at a better time, at a better club.” So why now? He posted the answer on Instagram with several bullet points, including:

  • “Gay male footballers in the UK need role models. 
  • Majority are terrified to come out to friends/family/teammates (trust me a few have reached out already!).”

STV Weekend News Sunday, September 18, 2022 Zander Murray

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